It may have been the home opener, but the Cal Poly women’s basketball team found —for Sunday at least — that Mott Gym wasn’t where the heart is.
With red-clad Bulldogs fans audibly overwhelming everything but the Mustangs band with chants of “Fres-no State,” Cal Poly head coach Faith Mimnaugh got the cold shoulder from referees while screaming for a late timeout.
With 11.9 seconds left in what would end a 79-76 loss, even a face-to-face plea for time by point guard Jonae Ervin was overlooked as the Mustangs (1-2) tried to freeze Fresno State’s Madison Parrish, who lined up for the free throw that put the Bulldogs (2-2) ahead by two.
“I was just trying to freeze the shooter, and obviously, it didn’t get done,” Mimnaugh said. “They’re a great team, and she’s such a good free-throw shooter, she probably wouldn’t have choked anyway, but that was my strategy anyway, to just mess her up and put a little pressure on her.”
The fact that Mimnaugh’s shouts went unheard only added unexpected insult to a deflating injury at Friday’s practice, where junior forward Kayla Griffin collided with a teammate during a defensive drill. Griffin’s knee injury, which has yet to be fully evaluated, left the Mustangs without one of their two main ball-handlers against the constant full-court pressure of Fresno State.
The Mustangs still had a shot after Parrish’s pair of free throws gave the Bulldogs a 78-76 lead, but Ashlee Burns — who scored 18 points and hit 4 of 7 3-pointers — was unable to go coast to coast for the potential tying layup.
Christine Martin, who scored 14 for Cal Poly, fouled Taylor Thompson with 3 seconds left, and Thompson added the final point on a free throw. The Mustangs were unable to get off another shot, and time expired. Senior forward Kristina Santiago led all scorers with 27 points and grabbed a career-high 23 rebounds for Cal Poly, which is averaging nearly 84 points per game thanks to uptempo games at San Francisco and “The System” of Oregon and former LMU men’s and Los Angeles Lakers head coach Paul Westhead.
The Mustangs lost a 102-93 game to the Ducks in the season opener, and Mimnaugh said she thought Fresno State might have been better than the Pac-12 foe.
Alex Sheedy led the Bulldogs with a career-high 16 points and 10 rebounds. Ki-Ki Moore (13), Rosie Moult (12) and Parrish (10) all scored double figures. Thompson had a game-high six assists, Moore had a team-high three steals, and Fresno State combined to shoot 45.8 percent (11 of 24) from 3-point range.
Still, Cal Poly felt it should have come away with the victory, even though injuries have shortened the bench and former Big West Conference Player of the Year Santiago played every second of a hellishly paced game.
“That’s the kind of game we try and play,” said Santiago, who was 11 of 19 from the floor and also had game highs with three blocks and four steals. “I don’t think there’s too much running for us, not with the style we want to play.”
Center Abby Bloetscher is already out until conference play as she recovers from knee surgery. In addition, 6-foot-2 forward Nikol Allison is still out with a back injury, and 6-0 forward Brittany Woodard, a former Nevada transfer, went in and out of the game with her own knee injury.
Add in Griffin, the team’s second-leading player in both rebounds and assists, and the injury list is taking a toll on the Cal Poly frontcourt. “Her loss today was felt by our whole team because she’s such a great decision maker,” Mimnaugh said. “We had people doing jobs that they normally aren’t assigned, and they’re going to try to find a way of doing those jobs, but we had some critical turnovers with people who were doing different jobs.”
Burns turned the ball over trying to force it to Ervin with Cal Poly trailing by one and 40 seconds left on the clock. But following that, Burns stole the inbounds pass, and Martin tied the score with a free throw seven seconds later. Guarding Parrish as she dribbled up the far sideline, Martin was called for the blocking foul that sent Parrish to the line for the go-ahead points.
Despite the mistakes down the stretch, Mustangs players aren’t using injuries as a crutch.
The team lost Santiago to a torn ACL in the season opener last season and went on to win its first Big West regular-season title in program history.
“We take the people that go down and we just have to step up,” Martin said. “As long as we have players that can do that and perform in that role, then I think we can stay on top.”